I got home from errands last night and saw this tweet from Lauren Lee, my editor at StarCityGames.com:
If there's one thing that bugs me, it's rambly introductions that don't get to the point of the article fast enough. Argh!
— Lauren Lee (@mulldrifting) July 11, 2012
I started in with a joke reply along the lines of "what did I do?" Lauren took me seriously, and then complimented my work. There's more to this later, including a retweet from someone I admire, but first I'm going back in time.
Trick Jarrett, the editor of dailymtg.com, has a wonderful website where he discusses Magic writing. His posts make me want to be a better writer. This prompted me to think, why do I write? Who do I want to emulate?
What can I do to be a better writer?
A background: I went into college thinking I was either going to major in English (like my dad) or Physics (after taking it voluntarily in high school, twice, including AP). After a semester of calculus, I was determined to read books for four years. Along with that came a significant amount of writing. I got good at writing, or at least good enough to be the go to editor for my circle of friends through grad school.
When I write today, it is either here or for Star City. At work, most of the writing I do is bullet points and program proposals, which is very different from explaining the nuances of a new Magic set or format, or detailing the random events of my life. Moving forward, I have decided to come up with writers I want to emulate with the goal of becoming a better writer.
Kurt Vonnegut: Vonnegut is my favorite author. Period. While I disagree with him on the use of the semi-colon, it is hard to beat the way Vonnegut was able to communicate humanity and humor without wasting words. If some books are slug-fests, Vonnegut's are the sweet science of jabs and parries. His work is brief and direct. Nothing gets lost.
In my junior year of college I took a class on 19th century British novels. The professor (whose name escapes me) gave this assignment to the class: I want you to write a five page paper, and I want you to do it in two pages. I would get my papers back from him covered in red marks and scribbles on my modifiers. I learned how to be brief.
Vonnegut was briefer and more direct. I can be too.
Brendan Kelly: One of the lead singers of the Lawrence Arms, and the lead vocalist for The Falcon and Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds. He also writes this hilarious blog, full of salty language. Brendan makes great use of metaphor and analogs to convey points. He also is not afraid of language and being offensive. I will not be talking about the same subject matter as he does, but I can still learn how to get my point across without mentioning it directly. His writing is also musical (which makes sense, since he is a musician).
It doesn't hurt that he also has written some of my favorite songs of all time. And his live shows are always a riot (helped by the band having just the right amount of booze before hand).
Mike Flores: Mike Flores is my favorite Magic writer of all time. He has a great sense of story (regardless of how often those tales are repeated) and wonderful pacing. His writing at times has a musical quality and is always entertaining. Mike's ability to break down complex concepts, integrating examples from outside Magic (basketball, Street Fighter, Star Wars lightsaber duels, and Rock Paper Scissors for example help to ground his work firmly in reality. His output is amazing and encompasses the history of the game. He is one of the best storytellers in Magic writing, and the scope of his view is wide (often wider than that of his audience). Yet it does not stop him.
Now for the retweet story: In early June I was taking the train to the Upper West Side to meet friend for dinner. I looked up at a stop and saw that Mike Flores had gotten on. I recognized him from my days as a Small Child at the now defunct Neutral Ground. I saw a trace of recognition when he saw me, and got the nerve to talk to him. The 15 minutes we talked changed my perspective on writing, at least for Magic. Regardless of everything else, when I write for Magic, I am a salesman (like my father before me) and I have to treat it as such. When I replied to Lauren that this convo had made me a better writer, Mike decided to send it out to his followers. That felt great.
The tie that binds these three writers together is the fact that they are fearless. There is no hesitation in their writing. Fear is the mind killer, it is the little death. This writers are all prolific. They lack fear. I have to learn that it does not matter if a piece is "bad" or "good," but rather that I wrote it. I have to like it more than everything I wrote before.
My goals for writing are:
- Be brief
- Be direct
- Have a point, but don't be a slave to it
- Be musical
- Be fearless
Keep me honest people.